Archive for August, 2008

Three-Quarters Of Perfection
August 31, 2008

Bret Bielema must have loved how Saturday’s 38-17 opening day victory against Akron worked out.

On paper, the Badgers predictably squashed the Zips, winning by three touchdowns and bettering Akron by nearly two hundred yards on offense. And then there was the not-so-little matter of the nearly 12-minute advantage in possession time (35:49 for Bucky compared to 24:11 for Akron), an area of the game of paramount importance to Bielema.

But coaches want, or perhaps need, their players to perform at a level just under perfection, otherwise there’s little incentive for them to work harder. Coaches of even the best teams will look for any area that needs improvement; a post-game speech will never end with the phrase, “Well, team, it looks like you’ve got everything down just the way we’ve been working on. No need for any more practices. I think there are still a couple of flights to Tijuana leaving later today. Go down, have a good time, call me if you need a good lawyer, and we’ll see you back here for the next game.”

The Badgers’ performance gave Bielema and his staff several areas — most notably eliminating turnovers and shoring up the pass defense — to work on for next Saturday’s game against Marshall, a team that almost assuredly will be a tougher opponent than the beleaguered Akron Zips.

Let’s start with what worked well, and that was the running game led by P.J. Hill (210 yards) with much support from Zach Brown (87 yards) and freshman John Clay (71 yards). Simply put, the running game was there all day for the Badgers, as Wisconsin piled up a stunning 404 yards on the ground. Much of the credit has to go to Wisconsin’s offensive line, who completely dominated the Zips defensive front, which was heavily crippled due to their coaches’ puzzling stubbornness at playing a 3-3-5 formation, the least effective way to attack a run-heavy offense like Wisconsin’s.

[Side note: In honor of the late comedian Benny Hill, who relied heavily on his “Hill’s Angels” troupe of women to fill time on his show, I’m trying to revive the “Hill’s Angels” moniker in conjunction with P.J. Hill, but I can’t decide whether the “Angels” should refer to his position cohorts Brown and Clay, or to the front seven that provides the holes that Hill bursts through. Feel free to e-mail me your thoughts.]

For the most part, new starting quarterback Allan Evridge also played well, though he clearly wasn’t put into the position of having to make plays to win this game. Despite playing nearly the entire sixty minutes, Evridge attempted only ten passes, completing seven for 75 yards and one touchdown, a performance that Evridge himself self-deprecatingly summed up as, “I think I did fairly well. I handed off the ball all right.” But even in his limited role, Evridge had a couple of notable throws, specifically a 20-yard beaut to Garrett Graham on the first drive of the game and a 15-yarder to Kyle Jefferson near the end of the first quarter that had to give coaches and fans confidence that Evridge was the right man for the job.

Evridge’s stats would have been better had it not been for a sure third-down touchdown pass that was dropped by David Gilreath on the first play of the second quarter. This missed opportunity was a prophetic beginning to a miserable second quarter that provided all of the ammunition that Bielema would need to convince his team that it needed to play better if it hoped to uphold its gaudy preseason ranking.

Following Philip Welch’s first field goal as a Badger that made the score 17-0, Akron’s offense suddenly caught fire, driving 72 yards on 10 plays on a touchdown scoring drive. But the Badgers defense undeniably helped Akron out, as the drive exposed the Badgers’ remarkably soft secondary: Akron receivers were wide open all afternoon and as often as not quarterback Chris Jacquemain’s fourteen incompletions (he went a respectable 22-of-36 for 227 yards and 2 TDs) were due to his receivers dropping some very catchable balls.

With Akron cutting Wisconsin’s lead to 17-7, Wisconsin appeared poised to regain its 17-point lead thanks to a marvelous 63-yard kickoff return by David Gilreath and a 15-yard face mask penalty called on Akron’s Mike Thomas. But on the drive’s third play and Hill’s third-straight carry, Hill fumbled the ball in the end zone, resulting in a touchback. After Akron failed to convert, Wisconsin embarked on another impressive drive led by Hill and Brown, only to see its scoring opportunities end with another end zone turnover, this time on a very poorly-thrown end-zone interception, which Akron’s Bryan Williams (a converted running back with great speed) returned 62 yards to the Wisconsin 38 with just 22 seconds left in the half. The Badgers’ surprisingly porous secondary allowed Jacquemain to complete two passes for thirty yards in twenty seconds, setting up a field goal, a halftime score of 17-10, and a stunned Camp Randall crowd of 80,910 (not to mention the thousands watching their first game on the Big Ten Network).

But Badger fans would not be stunned for long. Knowing what his team needed to do to stop Akron’s surprising surge, Bielema relied even more heavily on the running game in the second half — in fact, Evridge threw only one pass in the final thirty minutes, a six-yard, third-down completion to Gilreath. Hill, Brown, Clay, and the Badgers’ front seven completely wore down Akron’s defense in the second half, running wild on three consecutive touchdown scoring drives that put the game — and Akron’s upset bid — thoroughly out of reach.

A late touchdown drive by the Zips highlighted by remarkably soft defensive play might have been more forgettable if the defensive backfield hadn’t let the Zips receivers get open even when the outcome was briefly in doubt. Tightening up its pass coverage will have to be a priority if the Badgers are to succeed against much stiffer competition this year. But if the offensive line can continue to create gaps for Wisconsin’s excellent rushing attack, thereby wearing out defenses and dominating time of possession — basically, what’s come to be unimaginatively labeled as “Wisconsin football” — the Badgers will be, if not perfect, then at the least very successful.

Badgers Look To Rip The Zips
August 27, 2008

When MTV signed on in August 1981, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the one-hit-wonder band The Buggles was the first video seen. In 1979, ESPN debuted with a pro slow pitch softball game. HBO began its life in 1972 with the Paul Newman / Lee Remick / Henry Fonda film Sometimes a Great Notion, a movie so well thought of today that it’s never been released on DVD.   

 

So it is that groundbreaking new cable ventures rarely start out strong. Such will be the case again on Saturday, when the new-to-most-of-you Big Ten Network joins Charter and Time Warner lineups throughout southern Wisconsin with the Akron Zips and Wisconsin Badgers game at Camp Randall. (As of this writing, it was believed, though not confirmed, that the BTN would be added to Charter and Time Warner by Saturday.)

 

Not that Charter and Time Warner customers shouldn’t be happy with this resolution that will allow most non-rabbit-ear households full access to all televised Badger football and basketball games. The time will come this season when cable subscribers will enjoy exciting Big Ten football that heretofore would have only been available to satellite customers.

 

The excitement just won’t be there Saturday. The 2008 Akron Zips have every chance to be one of the worst teams the Badgers have faced in years. The Zips, who finished last season on a 1-6 run, have been picked by many experts to finish dead last in the less-than-powerhouse MAC conference. One reputable publication lists this year’s Zips as the 111th best team (out of 120) in the country.

 

The low expectations are not unreasonable. The Zips’ roster is so thin this year that their coach was compelled to take their best running back, Bryan Williams, and move him to safety. They were also compelled to take their leading tackler, Andre Jones, and move him to wide receiver. Their desperation to add impact players reached the point a few weeks ago that they signed a running back out of high school, DeVoe Torrence, who was recently charged with having sex with an underage girl. Torrence was acquitted, even though several of his friends were not.

 

Akron sportswriters are even calling on Zips head coach J.D. Brookhart to rest starters this weekend for “winnable” games, but it’s doubtful that Brookhart (who left the team’s final scrimmage saying he was “disappointed” in the team’s performance) will do that, at least not until things get out of hand, which engage in their inaugural “Jump Around” of the season.

 

In short, the Zips are just the sort of team that the Badgers, who have high preseason expectations despite uncertainties at several positions, should be happy to be facing in week one. Offensively, new starting quarterback Allan Evridge hasn’t wowed anyone this spring, while the receiving corps, outside of tight end Travis Beckum, is largely unproven. Sophomores David Gilreath and especially Kyle Jefferson will have to be more productive to help out their developing QB. Fortunately for Wisconsin, the Zips are fielding new starters at every defensive backfield position, so Evridge and his receivers have a great chance to gain some early rapport. Hopefully Beckum, who has been slowed by a hamstring injury, will be set to play this week.

 

The good news for the Badgers offense continues to be at running back, where Wisconsin looks to have an embarrassment of riches with P.J. Hill, Zach Brown, and promising freshman John Clay. With this group, Wisconsin looks to do what it did so well last year – run the ball and dominate the time of possession, an important stat that the Badgers led the country in last year, holding on to the ball an average of 33:57 a game. The Zips’ front seven is more experienced than its backfield, but they will struggle going against Wisconsin’s brutal and bruising running attack.

 

Defensively, the Badgers hope to get off to a better start than they did last year in non-conference play, when they inexplicably gave up big points and tons of yardage to the likes of Washington State and The Citadel. Fortunately for Wisconsin, the Zips’ quarterback, junior Chris Jacquemain, was largely ineffective last year and held on to the job by virtual default. Of course, having a decided lack of weapons didn’t help his play. Facing a team determined not to repeat last year’s early stumbles in front of their home crowd doesn’t appear to be the best way for Jacquemain to erase the doubts of Zips’ coaches and fans.

 

Badger fans can finally rejoice now that the Big Ten Network has been released from the grips of satellite exclusivity, and they can watch Saturday’s opener against Akron in the comfort of their own homes – at least until Wisconsin builds a comfortable lead midway through the second quarter. Then perhaps fans may wish to spend the afternoon tackling some of those pesky house projects while enjoying the games the way they sometimes had to last year – by listening to them on the radio. The more things change . . .  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good/Bad of Broncos/Packers and Big Ten Power Rankings
August 24, 2008

Three good and three not-so-good things to come out of the Packers’ third preseason game, Friday night’s 27-24 preseason victory over the Denver Broncos:

The good:

1. Aaron Rodgers. Let’s face it, nothing else probably mattered in this game to Packer fans and coaches as much as Rodgers’s performance. And did Rodgers deliver: 18-of-22 for 193 yards and a very nice touchdown pass to Donald Driver as well as a one-yard quarterback sneak TD on his last drive. More importantly, he seemed like a different quarterback than the one who suited up against the 49ers: He looked comfortable in the pocket, made smart decisions, and didn’t panic in the face of Denver’s pass rush. This is the Aaron Rodgers that Thompson and McCarthy thought they had when they told Brett Favre they had “moved on.” If Rodgers can perform like this in the regular season — and I think he can — he will without a doubt be the best quarterback in the NFC North. Now if he would just do something about that godawful facial hair . . .

2. The return of Greg Jennings. Having missed the first two preseason games with knee soreness, Jennings gave Packer fans a quick reminder of how important he is to the offense. Leading all Packer receivers with four receptions for 42 yards, Jennings showed no ill effects from the time missed. His productivity will be crucial to Rodgers’s success.

3. The running game without Ryan Grant. Noah Herron and Kregg Lumpkin combined for 15 carries for 66 yards, and both looked very sharp. Depending on how Brandon Jackson and Vernand Morency perform in the final preseason game against the Titans, the Packers will have some tough decisions regarding their depth at running back. But that’s the kind of tough decision that teams are happy to be in the position to have to make. I would not be surprised to see Jackson or Morency looking for work very soon.

Bonus good: They won. Sure it’s only preseason, but you got the sense that the Packers needed a confidence-boosting victory. They got it, and a come-from-behind one at that.

The bad:

1. Injuries. The bane of preseason football. The Packers suffered injuries to several key players on Friday night, and while none of them appeared to be severe, none of the players hurt were able to return to the game either (although receiver James Jones came out about the same time as the rest of the starters and seemed fine). Rookie right guard Josh Sitton left with a knee injury, Bigby went out after his ankle got rolled over, and Collins suffered a stinger after getting hit by a teammate. All are likely to be fine for the Monday night opener on September 8, but all serve as a scary reminder of how easy it is for players to be cut down in exhibition play.

2. The rush defense. In short, it was awful. Denver averaged nearly five yards per carry and had 98 yards rushing in the first half alone — against the Packers’ starters. When teams can run on you, they hold the ball for large chunks of time and usually score. Denver was able to convert on all three of its first half possessions, most troubling being a monster 99-yard, 16-play drive that consumed 8:29 of game time. If teams can do that consistently in the regular season against Green Bay, victories will be tough.

3. The back-up quarterback position. To be fair, neither Brian Brohm nor Matt Flynn got much playing time on Saturday nght. But Brohm, who went 0-for-4 Friday, needs to play better on Thursday against the Titans if he hopes to hold off Flynn for the back-up job. Flynn hasn’t necessarily looked like the second coming of Dan Fouts, but he’s looked more poised and comfortable than Brohm. I hope that the Packers realize the inherent insanity of going into the regular season with three untested quarterbacks and pick up some veteran to back-up Rodgers. The Packers can’t expect Rodgers to be as invincible as Favre, and surely McCarthy and Thompson can’t feel that either Brohm or Flynn are ready to lead this team anywhere. They’re simply not ready nor, with the necessary emphasis on giving Rodgers game time, have they been put in the position of getting ready.

With college football starting this week, here are my highly-anticipated Big Ten power rankings. Not to be confused with preseason polls, which are ridiculous:

1. Ohio State. No surprise here. So many returning starters, the Buckeyes are nearly everyone’s pick to at least make it to a third straight national championship game. If they can get past the September 13 showdown at USC and the October 4 game at Camp Randall, they might prove they have enough talent to actually win it all this year.

2. Iowa. Upset special here. But have you seen their schedule? No Michigan, no Ohio State, and they get Wisconsin and Penn State at home. If this team doesn’t have the injury problems of a year ago, they should surprise a lot of people.

3. Wisconsin.  Sorry, but the quarterback play — i.e., lack of experience — worries me. Granted, the team should be wonderful at running back, but when Evridge has to make a play, will he be able to? Plus, the defense needs to prove itself over the course of a full season.

4. Penn State. Good team last year, should be good team this year. But schedule is brutal. While Iowa misses Michigan and Ohio State, the Nittany Lions miss Minnesota and Northwestern. Ouch.

5. Michigan. Too many uncertainties to be real excited about the Wolverines this year. But like the New York Yankees, not too many people would be surprised to see them have a great season nonetheless.

6. Michigan State. This team lost a lot of close games last year. With experience, they might win some of those this year. And if that happens, they’ll be in the mix for a good bowl game.

7. Illinois. Mendenhall’s gone, which is a killer. But quarterback Juice Williams has shown improvement this spring, and the defense is decent. Could be a sleeper.

8. Purdue. If the team can gear up for Joe Tiller’s last season, the Boilermakers might surprise. But if not, it could be a long season.

9. Northwestern. They might be better than in years past, but is that saying much?

10. Indiana. Better than expected last year, so look for a downturn this season.

11. Minnesota. Couldn’t think of a reason not to put them in the basement.

Favre vs. Rodgers: Round One
August 17, 2008

Saturday was the first day that both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers took to the football field as starters, inviting comparisons that will likely last throughout the upcoming NFL season.

Sunday morning, Packer fans have to be hoping that the comparison is closer once the regular season starts.

Frankly, when I decided to write a blog comparing Favre’s first preseason start as a New York Jet to Aaron Rodgers’s second preseason game as the undisputed starting quarterback of the Packers, I figured the conclusion would read something like, “in the end, both teams will be fine.” 

Well, I can’t write that summary after what transpired on Saturday. Favre was great in his Jets debut (though after a bizarre finish, the Jets lost to the Redskins 13-10), while Rodgers and the Packers took a whopping step back from their first preseason game as they were completely dominated by San Francisco to the tune of 34-6.

Now on many levels it’s ridiculous to compare Favre’s and Rodgers’s performances from Saturday. Favre stayed in for only 14 offensive plays. Rodgers played the entire first half. Favre was in front of his new home crowd. Rodgers was in San Francisco (though, since Rodgers hails from Chico, California, about a three-hour drive from Frisco, he was presumably playing in front of some friends and family — his parents were shown in the stands on the broadcast). Favre has had about a week to learn the Jets offense. Rodgers has been studying under Mike McCarthy for two seasons. But, let’s face it, the football world will be comparing these two on a weekly basis until one of them retires (most likely Favre) or suffers a season-ending injury (more likely Rodgers). So, I figure, why wait?

The interesting comparisons between Favre and Rodgers came before play even started, with the montage sequences that opened up each broadcast. New York’s WCBS Jets/Redskins opening saluted “Broadway Brett,” and called Saturday’s game “the most anticipated preseason game in Jets history,” which I guess is one step above it being referred to as “the most anticipated game of absolutely no relevance in Jets history” (and if any NFL franchise has had its share of irrelevant games, it’s the Jets). The Packers’ broadcast began with a series of recent highlights all carefully edited to remove any images of a certain recently-traded quarterback. The montage was introduced with the tagline, “Teams Win Championships, Not Individuals.” Both montages served to underscore the marketing message for both teams as the 2008 season begins: The Jets want fans to believe that Favre will take a 4-12 team and make it a Super Bowl contender, while the Packers want fans to believe that the loss of Favre will mean a 13-3 team can remain a Super Bowl contender. Both were ridiculous — does an image of Favre meeting Mayor Bloomberg mean anything except the Mayor of one of the world’s largest cities has apparently too much free time? — but the Packers one was especially insulting, as if fans wouldn’t remember who was on the throwing end of all of those Donald Driver receptions. It may take a team to win championships, but it also takes a quarterback to throw a football.

Favre took the field about 6 pm CST, two hours earlier than Rodgers did, and if there were any worries from Kevin James — sorry, I mean head coach Eric Mangini — that “Jet” Favre was a work in progress, those worries were dispelled with Favre’s first throw, an 11-yard-strike to Jerricho Cotchery. The perfect throw on the quick slant route was reminiscent of hundreds that Favre threw as a Packer, but certainly more so of throws made just last year as Favre began to master McCarthy’s system of short, quick receiver routes.

On that first drive Favre made two other sharp throws, starting off his Jet career 3-for-3. But then Favre took a sack on a Redskins blitz and then made his first poor throw as a Jet, forcing his team to punt on a 4th-and-16. After a three-and-out by Washington (are the Jets going to play defense this year?), the Jets took over near mid-field and needed only six plays to score their first touchdown of the game and Favre’s first touchdown as a Jet, a four-yard pass to Dustin Keller. Favre finished his night –including a very pretty 19-yard-pass to Cotchery on that second drive — 5-for-6 for 48 yards, one touchdown, and one sack. A short night’s work, but an impressive one, and one that compared pretty favorably to Aaron Rodgers’s successful start against Cincinnati on Monday night. 

Unfortunately, whatever confidence Rodgers had instilled in Packer fans after Monday’s game took a hit on Saturday night. The first drive started OK — Rodgers went 3-of-3 for 23 yards — but then things turned ugly. Playing the whole of the first half, Rodgers would complete only six of his next thirteen passes for 35 measly more yards while taking four sacks. Worse than the statistics was the lack of any semblance of crispness to the passing game — Rodgers seemed out of sync with his receivers while receiving poor protection from his offensive line. Now of course Rodgers can’t be entirely blamed for poor protection up front, but he clearly wasn’t comfortable in the face of the 49ers’ pass rush and he wasn’t able to release the ball as quickly as his predecessor could in the face of trouble. Even his lone scramble was troublesome, as he went out of bounds a yard too early as the Packers tried to mount a scoring drive late in the first half.

In Rodgers’s defense, he did throw a nice ball to Donald Lee in the end zone on the first play after an interception by Charles Woodson gave the Packers a first down in San Francisco’s red zone. Lee dropped the easy touchdown and the drive sputtered after yet another sack, leading to a field goal and the only point-producing drive (a drive in which they actually lost a total of six yards) of Rodgers’s night. With that field goal, the Packers took a 3-0 lead, but that lead soon evaporated as the Packers’ second-tier defense (particularly beleaguered cornerback Jarrett Bush) made journeyman quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan — who entered training camp third on San Francisco’s laughable quarterback depth chart — look like the second coming of Ken “Lung Brush” Stabler.

So does Saturday night mean that the Packers’ decision to cease playing the retirement game with Brett Favre and move on with Rodgers as their starter was a clear mistake? Of course not. It’s one bad half of preseason football for Rodgers and one scoring drive for Brett Favre. But it does mean that for at least one night, for whatever it’s worth, the Jets and their fans are feeling better about having Brett Favre than the Packers and their fans are feeling about not having Brett Favre. 

[One of the more curious sidebars to come out of both the Jets’ and Packers’ second preseason games is that the third-string quarterback for both teams seems likely to come out of the preseason as the number two. Brett Ratliff for the Jets has clearly outplayed Kellen Clemens, while Matt Flynn has been much more effective than Brian Brohm for Green Bay. I expect both Brohm and Flynn to stay on the team, unless Rodgers has more outings like Saturday and the Packers decide to bring in a veteran to back him up as insurance. But I don’t think that’s likely.]

Blog: Parade Of Losers
August 8, 2008

Geez, you go camping for a couple of days with your kids and you miss so much . . .

So the Packers have traded Brett Favre to the Jets, finally closing the tent on their two-month circus. Unfortunately, all this circus has left behind is a parade of losers. Let’s examine each loser in detail:

Brett Favre.Certainly the biggest loser in all of this. Favre clearly didn’t want to play for the Jets. And for good reason. Personally, it will be a culture shock. I’m not saying that Favre’s some hick who can’t adjust to the big city, but he is essentially a small-town guy who was tailor made for the smallest market in professional sports. His bio on officialbrettfavre.com lists his interests as “hunting, TV nature programs, crossword puzzles, fishing, and tending to his home.” Not exactly hobbies that put anyone in a New York State of Mind. Favre is an icon in Wisconsin; in New York, even if he is successful, he will be just another face in the crowd, overshadowed by A-Rod, Donald Trump, Madonna, and Regis and Kelly. And that’s if he’s lucky. God forbid he gets photographed having lunch with any female other than his wife or one of his daughters ends up discussing her sexual preferences on Howard Stern’s radio show.

Personally, it will clearly be a tough fit, but what about professionally? Well, Favre goes from playing for a 13-3 team that returns basically all of its roster to a 4-12 team that, unfortunately for him, also returns much of its roster. The Jets’ additions of star guard Alan Faneca and star linebacker Calvin Pace will help, but it will take Favre’s best season ever to lift this roster, with the likes of Laveraneus Coles, Jerricho Cotchery, and Thomas Jones (and Packer reject Bubba Franks) as his weapons, to a Wild Card spot. Not to mention that Favre goes from the cushy confines of the NFC North to the brutal AFC East, which features the New England Patriots and the improving Buffalo Bills.

Favre has stated all through this painful process that he wanted to play only if he could play for a contender. The Packers are a contender. The Buccaneers, in a weak NFC South, are a contender. The Vikings would have been a contender with Favre. The Jets are not. You would have to have a very hard heart not to feel badly for how this all turned out for Favre. He’s not a traitor, but this bad deal has made him a loser.

Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy.The Packers organization has taken several hits here. The immediate one is the hit on their image. Even the most ardent Favre hater has to be shocked at how Favre was run out of town. Not only did the Packers disrespect Favre by not agreeing to his reasonable wish to start or be released, but they threw in an amazingly stiff penalty — three first-rounddraft picks — that ensured the Jets wouldn’t turn around and deal Favre to his preferred team, the Minnesota Vikings. Talk about adding insult to injury. It’s like parents that refuse to take their kids to Disney World, take them to Gator Land instead, and insist on staying at the Motel 6. (And don’t feed me any line about how the Packers didn’t want to face Favre twice a year. If he so’s good that they don’t want to play against him, then he’s good enough to play for them.)

But more importantly, Thompson and McCarthy have gone to great lengths to ensure that the Packers will be less competitive in 2008 than they were in 2007. That’s why, despite getting just what they wanted out of this, they’re losers too.

Aaron Rodgers. Yes, Rodgers got what he wanted too, but the old adage of being careful what you wish for has never been truer. (Not to mention the old adage of not wanting to be the guy that replaces a legend, but rather the guy that replaces the guy who replaced the legend.) If Rodgers doesn’t play well — very well — he should expect very nasty treatment from the fans at Lambeau Field who will remember all too well the Lambeau-Leaping heroics of number 4. Rodgers may end up feeling that his three-year in-training period wasn’t nearly long enough. 

Eric Mangini.Hopes are now ridiculously high in New York, and not just for the Giants, Mets, and Yankees. If the new Favre-led J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets don’t deliver for head coach Mangini, he can be expected to be out of a job by New Year’s.

Chad Pennington. Despite claims from the Dolphins that they are happy with quarterbacks Josh McCown, John Beck, and Chad Henne (yeah, right, like I’m happy with the boring houseguests on this year’s Big Brother), Pennington will likely wind up in Miami. Hey, at least the weather’s great.

The Minnesota Vikings. They’re stuck with Tavaris Jackson. Hey, at least Kelly Holcomb retired.

The Chicago Bears. They’re stuck with Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. Hey, at least the Cubs and White Sox are having good years.

The NFL. Favre’s presence guaranteed national (and beyond) interest in the NFL’s most storied franchise. Rodgers can’t and won’t.

Like most people, I’m happy that Favre and the Packers have finally settled their dispute. Now maybe the country can focus on more relevant topics, like the upcoming presidential election or the Jonas Brothers. But I can’t help wishing that this admittedly fascinating story hadn’t had such a sad ending for everyone involved. Images of that 13-3 season of 2007, of Favre leading Mike McCarthy’s team to commanding win after commanding win, now seem as distant as Max McGhee catching touchdown passes in Super Bowl I.

Packers Bribe, Brewers Slide
August 2, 2008

It’s tough posting about the Favre stuff because the situation seems to be changing hourly and by the time I finish this, something may have broken that I don’t respond to here. But as I write this, Brett Favre is reportedly mulling a $25 million offer from the Packers that will keep him away from camp and off not only the Packers team but all NFL teams. In short, the Packers are trying to buy off Favre to keep him retired.

Remember a few weeks ago when Ted Thompson told the media that they were not open to Favre returning to football because they were trying to “protect his legacy,” a stance that Favre openly mocked during his interview with Greta Van Sustren? Well, how does offering him a buyout serve that purpose? You know who usually gets bizarre offers like this? Mistresses that threaten to tell all to the spouse of the man they’re fooling around with — remember the great film Crimes and Misdemeanors? When Martin Landau offered to pay Anjelica Huston to keep her mouth shut, do you think he was trying to “protect her legacy”? He wanted her to go away, which is what the Packers want Favre to do. Don’t believe any of this garbage about this being an offer to keep Favre involved in “marketing” the Packers. Green Bay is one of the few teams that don’t need help marketing their product — unless, of course, the team tanks with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. 

But if Rodgers is completely ineffective at quarterback, or (more likely) if he gets hurt, don’t you think that the Packers’ bribe includes some verbiage somewhere that would allow Favre to come back as quarterback? Of course. And of course Favre, if asked, would quickly chuck his business attire (if he has any — he met with the Packers last week in roughly the same sort of clothes that I wear to clean my gutters) for his green and gold number 4 jersey.

So the Packers offer is the ultimate “eating their cake and having it too” situation. It’s absurd, it’s arrogant, and it’s offensive — keeping in line with how the team has handled this entire situation. The only thing that could make the offer worse would be if Favre accepted it. Then Favre apologists like myself who have been arguing for the team to either activate him or release him so he can play because all he wants to do is play football would be proven wrong. Favre taking the offer would indicate that money was more important than football to him all along, an action that would severely tarnish his legacy, the very thing that the Packers have been trying so hard for the last two months to protect.

But anyone paying attention to the Packers’ business methods wouldn’t have been too shocked by this Favre buyout offer. Internal Packer memos recently uncovered indicate that in just the last few months the following offers have been made by the Green Bay Packer organization:

  1. $15 million to Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress to keep bumbling Tavaris Jackson as the Vikings’ starting quarterback;
  2. $20 million to Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith to retain the two-headed quarterback failure of Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman on their roster;
  3. $5 million to Ford Field workers to secretly replace the Detroit Lions’ in-game supply of Gatorade with non-refreshing Super Chill Dr. Chill; 
  4. $500,000 to CBS’s Julie Chen to fix the outcome of Big Brother 10;
  5. $750,000 to NBC to name Favre as new host of Celebrity Family Feud;
  6. $35,000 to anonymous source for bootleg video of The Dark Knight;
  7. $500,000 to John McCain’s presidential campaign to name Favre as vice-presidential nominee;
  8. $500 to anomymous source for front-row tickets to see Bette Midler in Las Vegas;
  9. $1 million to Manny Ramirez to stay out of National League (he obviously passed);
  10. $450,000 to McDonald’s to make the McRib part of the everyday Dollar Value Menu.

OK, enough about Favre. On to what was the other disaster of the week: The Cubs thumping of the Brewers in four straight games in Milwaukee. After Monday’s series-opening victory (which was the only close game of the four), Cubs manager Lou Pinella said all the right things about how the Brewers were a good team, how it was going to be a tough series, and how the Cubs had their work cut out for them at Miller Park. It sounded good, but something about Pinella’s tone irritated me. He seemed extraordinarily condescending, like if Bruce Springsteen was forced to honor the Jonas Brothers at the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. Anyway, it bugged me.

But the final three games did nothing but validate Pinella’s superior attitude and further frustrate Brewer fans in what has been a roller-coaster season. It seems every time I’ve been ready to write this team off, they surprise with a great win streak. And every time I’m ready to anoint them the best team in the National League, they proceed to look like the Bad News Bears. After sweeping the Cardinals in St. Louis, I convinced myself that — however unlikely it would have seemed earlier in the season — the Brewers were going to take three of four from Chicago, take the division lead, and not relinquish it for the remainder of the season. Didn’t quite work out that way.

Well, as horrible a series as it was — and the Brewers were completely dominated in every conceivable phase of the game — I refuse to believe, as I’ve heard elsewhere, that it was a “season killer” for Milwaukee. They got swept in July, not in October. This team simply has too much talent to write them off after a series that looked to me like an abberation, not a sign of things to come. (And Friday’s dominating 9-0 beatdown of the Braves supports that view.)

Despite the sweep, the Cubs only hold a narrow 6-4 season series lead on Milwaukee, and with six games still left against the Cubs — not to mention 51 games left overall, I still give the Brewers a puncher’s catch to win the division and they still have to be considered the favorite to win the Wild Card. How’s that for positive thinking? 

Although I have to admit, the struggles of J.J. Hardy and especially Corey Hart have me more than a little concerned . . .  Perhaps a bribe from Ted Thompson would elevate their level of play . . .